More than 32 million Americans suffer from food allergies. The number of kids with food allergies has jumped 50% since the 1990s.
What’s going on?
Robert Earl, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the food-allergy advocacy group FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education), shares his thoughts and hopes for the game- changing practice that will reduce the disease and treatments that will save lives.
Q: Why are food allergies so prevalent and on the rise?
A: For over two decades, parents were advised to avoid feeding their infants common food allergens—like peanuts, eggs, and tree nuts—until their children were as old as three to five years of age. Now the advice has turned around 180 degrees. A seminal study on peanuts, called the LEAP study, showed that feeding peanut products actually dramatically reduced the development of peanut allergy.
As of 2017, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
recommended introduction of peanut products in the diet of infants between four and six months. In 2020, the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans also included that advice. My hope is that we will continue to see this strategy adopted by more pediatricians and family physicians that educate parents about early introduction of food allergens. Also, by important federal programs like the USDA Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which can educate families on feeding food allergens early and support it with inclusion of allergenic foods.
Q: So that’s peanuts. What about the other top food allergens?
A: At FARE, we are supporting research on infants four to 12 months old and looking at how consistently feeding eight different food allergens beginning at four months of age affects them. The food allergens used in
the study include egg, milk, peanut, walnut, almond, cashew, soy, and sesame. If the study shows similar results to the LEAP study, our hope is that when the next edition of Dietary Guidelines is published by 2025, there will be a recommendation that is similar to the one for peanuts for all major food allergens. Early introduction has the potential to virtually eliminate food allergies in infants and children in a generation.
Q: Are there any other important breakthroughs on the horizon?
A: The most promising one is an alternative to the traditional epinephrine autoinjector, that administers a life-saving dose of
epinephrine via a needle to someone having a severe allergic reaction.
Many people find that understandably scary. Several pharmaceutical companies are working on needle-free ways to deliver epinephrine, including a nasal spray and an under-the-tongue strip—kind of like mouthwash strips.
The FDA will be discussing one new type in May—nasal spray epinephrine, and if it goes well, it could be available by the end of the year. That would be a game changer—for schools, restaurants, airplanes, buses and more. You wouldn’t need trained medical personnel to deliver epinephrine. It will be huge and
save more lives.
For more information about FARE, visit www.foodallergy.org.